Environmental Justice Groups Implore Labor to Join on Climate Change

One of the lesser known areas the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) governs is environmental justice – health and environmental issues that impact low-income, minority and tribal communities, which live in some of the most polluted areas of the country.

EPA announced the award of $1.1 million in competitive small grants to 39 non-profit and tribal organizations working to address environmental justice issues nationwide. 

2013 grants give us insight into the issues these groups deal with: reducing exposure to indoor environmental asthma triggers; restoring and protecting waterways; educating child care professionals on ways to prevent lead poisoning; and reducing pesticide use in child care facilities.

EPA defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race or income, in the environmental decision-making process. Since 1994, EPA has awarded small grants to address environmental justice issues in more than 1,400 communities. 

This fall, EPA will issue a Request for Proposals for 2014 grants.

Examples of grants: Health Resources in Action, Boston, Massachusetts: child care professionals will receive education  on best practices for controlling lead poisoning and asthma triggers in home-based childcare facilities. By encouraging behavior changes and conducting trainings focused on healthy homes initiatives, the project will also address the disproportionate rates of asthma and lead poisoning among children in Boston’s low-income neighborhoods.

Ironbound Community Corp., Newark, New Jersey: residents will receive education on how to reduce toxic substances in soils by increasing soil health through urban gardening and green infrastructure. Two vacant lots will be turned into community green spaces as a demonstration of how to improve air quality and enhance the quality of life for residents of the Ironbound neighborhood. Participants will learn how to build raised beds, plant and maintain trees, and construct and operate composting bins.

Clean Air Council, Philadelphia, PA: this project will identify and address public health concerns in the Port Richmond neighborhood where residents are disproportionately impacted by high levels of air pollution. Residents will participate in workshops and coalition building to develop policy solutions to reduce exposure to pollution from area factories, chemical processing facilities, ocean-going vessels, and heavy traffic from nearby Interstate 95. The workshops will also help residents understand the current policies available to reduce air pollution exposure in over-burdened neighborhoods and provide an advocacy model for other waterfront communities facing similar issues.

Here is the EPA environmental justice website, which has  descriptions of all grant recipients.

In related news, 60 environmental justice organizations sent a letter to the AFL-CIO on the eve of their annual conference, imploring labor to get involved on climate change, which they refer to as "climate justice."

Climate justice rally this summer:

Climate Justice

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Dear AFL-CIO President Trumka and Our Sisters & Brothers in the Labor Movement:

There is a movement growing across the country and around the world – a movement to fight climate change and build a sustainable future for the planet and its people. This movement will define the 21st Century in the same way that seven great social movements defined the best of the 20th Century: labor, civil rights, environment, LGBTQ equality, women’s, migrant rights, and peace & freedom.

But at the current time, Labor in the United States is not a central participant in the movement for climate justice. This is unfortunate because we believe that Labor must play a key role in this movement if it is to continue to represent the aspirations of working people, both on the job and beyond. At the same time, the environmental justice movement cannot halt climate change without organized labor. We need each other to win. Right now, none of us are winning.

We write to you today, on the eve of the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention, to implore Labor to join us in the fight against climate change. We represent grassroots social, economic and environmental justice organizations and networks based in and allied with Indigenous, African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and working class white communities, working for a just transition away from climate polluting industries, towards healthy, community-based economies that can weather the storm.

We thank you for your tireless efforts in protecting our rights as working people. We understand that unions are under attack like never before, and we offer our solidarity. We also believe we presently face a historic opportunity to build a movement together – to protect the planet, and in the process, re-shape our economy to ensure it no longer benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Working people are hit first and worst. As the crisis escalates, firefighters and other first responders are dying on the job fighting wildfires and other extreme weather events. We are seeing massive job loss in the wake of each storm. As working class communities inside and outside the labor movement, we are all on the frontlines of this crisis. We were the ones with no way out of the city when Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy hit. Our neighborhoods are where the power plants and refineries are sited, so it is our kids who get asthma and cancer. Our families eat pesticide-laced food because working at Walmart does not pay enough to buy organic produce.

We must shift from Jobs vs. Environment, to Jobs for the Environment. Collaboration won’t be easy. Both labor and environmentalists have often bought into and been divided by the "jobs vs. environment" lies that distract us from the real, clear evidence of culpability – concentration of corporate power. Their networks of destructive, polluting and wasteful industries have eliminated and eroded long-term employment, while polluting air, water and food for our communities. However, we know there are economic pathways we can build together – pathways in zero waste, clean energy, public transportation, community housing, food sovereignty and ecosystem restoration, where millions of new, community-supporting jobs can be created, while reducing pollution and poverty across the country.

Read the full letter:

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Comments on “Environmental Justice Groups Implore Labor to Join on Climate Change”

  1. Enviro Equipment Inc.

    Good luck getting the AFL-CIO with supporting the fight against global warming and/or environmental justice. The AFL-CIO is more concerned with saving union jobs in with making political statements.


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